Only an hour away from Kyoto is the bustling city of Osaka. Rivalling Tokyo for its bright lights, markets, and vibe, Osaka was the next stop on our Japan adventure. The city oozes charm and has an awesome easy-going vibe, not only is there loads to see there is LOADS to eat and we made our way around the town like we hadn’t eaten for a week.
We left Gion early. We only had the afternoon and one full day to fully explore around Osaka. I had my heart set on visiting Universal Studios but we decided that it would have to wait until next time, we had a good reason but I had longed to see the Harry Potter exhibit in a theme park for years, there’s always next time though right? Our train from Kyoto station totaled one hour, we then switched to another local JR line and exited at Namba station. It was so easy and we walked out into a bustling city street ready to find our hotel.
The hotel was easily one of the best it was pretty fancy and very reasonably priced. It was a short walk from Dontonburi, the downtown main hub of Osaka. With check-in not till 3 pm, we wandered the streets looking for food and somewhere to relax. Starbucks in Japan made the most delicious Christmas themed coffee and our afternoon hot drinks frequented there. As we sat and watched the world go by below I hit up google for a street market. Due to timings and location we, unfortunately, missed visiting the famous Tokyo fish market but don’t sweat, if you’re coming to Osaka then you are in luck. The Kuromon Ichibamarket is amazing! From our comfy warm seats in Starbucks, we walked twenty minutes to the entrance of the market. We didn’t know what to expect, once inside it was an overload on all senses. The smells, the sound, sight, and taste of everything was mindblowing. We had just wandered into Osaka’s biggest food market and it was a maze. Seafood, sushi, hot food, oysters, crab legs, fruit, everything you could imagine was here and they are selling it in the truckloads. Some of the fish there, well, I’ve never seen a fish that big in my life. We wandered around, had a sushi burger, and watched the auctioning of fish. The Japanese, so passionate about their seafood and fresh produce inspecting their goods before taking them away to be prepared at a restaurant no doubt that night. The market kept us busy for hours, walking through the 600m long halls. We then happened upon an arcade and shopping centre where I purchased chopsticks from a culinary stock room, cheap and a great little souvenir. Exhausted from the food sampling and people watching we took the late afternoon off exploring.
Dotonbori is the bright heart of Osaka, The canal and the street light up at night and it feels like a fairground. Well known for its neon, extravagant signs, and eateries it is the perfect place to go for a night-time wander. We spent so much time wandering around and watching the lights and moving objects, our favourite being a huge crab on the wall. It was here in Osaka that we enjoyed our first Tempura dinner. We happened upon a small restaurant on the outskirts of the neon lights. We both had a tempura bowl, noodle ramen soup, miso soup and rice, so much food and so cheap. It was god damn delicious, so much so that we went back the next night.
We swapped Universal Studios for something equally as exciting, a sunrise alarm. We fumbled around in the dark, got ready and after a warming vending machine coffee we descended into Namba station. The Japan Rail pass line direct to Nara Park was our plan, we had some Deer friends to visit. The train is about 30 minutes long and at the other end we jumped on a bus for 400 Yen return, this dropped us right at the entrance to Nara Park. I think in every single blog I have said, get here early, get anywhere early if you want to avoid the crowds. On the bus we got our first sighting of deer as they walked down the street among the people, occasionally stopping to sniff the trees or take a lie down. Off the bus and my excitement peaked, the Deer were everywhere. I refrained from buying the cracker snacks used to entice them over and walked around the whole park. It was magical, honestly, it was magic. Nara Park is home to over 1000 free-roaming Deer. They wander around the park and the surrounding streets looking for food. The Deer are tame and will approach you, with or without food. They also bow, it is the cutest thing in the world, however, they move on when they realise you are no good to them without snacks in hand.
We spent two hours walking around the park. The Todaiji Temple, the world’s largest wooden structure is located on the park grounds, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site and very beautiful. The Autumn colours and early morning light is every photographer’s dream and I spent the majority of my time behind the camera. I honestly didn’t want to leave. Arriving before 9 am meant we had a relatively quiet morning. As soon as 10 am chimed in so did the tour buses and school groups, after a little longer in the park and watching people get chased by the Deer we decided it was time to leave.
The bus and train had us back in Osaka in less than an hour and we went straight back to the market for lunch. The market was noticeably quieter today, maybe not a big trading day or we missed the rush but our favourite sushi burger joint was open. I had a huge tempura prawn and Robbie sashimi tuna, honestly we could have smashed more than one each but I held back knowing that a delicious Osaka dinner would be waiting.
The beauty of the Japan Rail Pass is that in many cities you can use the pass on local lines. We took the opportunity and jumped on the Osaka Loop Line to Osakajokoen station. Here we walked for half an hour through the park’s gardens before winding up to the Osaka castle. It is a beautiful structure and sitting above the gardens and looking out gave us so much perspective for the old and the new Japan, sitting peacefully side by side. Guess where we ended up again? Starbucks Christmas coffees took a hit in our travel budget but a white chocolate mocha on a cold wintery day made all my troubles melt away. Worth every cent.
I convinced Robbie to eat at the tempura bar again even though we wanted to sample the street food. Osaka is famous for Takoyaki. They are a kind of dumpling made from grilled puffs with octopus meat in the middle, the sauce and seasoning sweet and everyone, everyone was buying them. We passed in Osaka thinking we would try them elsewhere and I tucked happily into a huge bowl of vegetables, deep-fried, tempura vegetables that is.
We had another bullet train ride in the morning. Nagano, our second to last stop in the mountains was around five hours away. The JR team at Osaka station sorted our tickets and seats and we retreated again for what felt like an early night. I rewarded my packing skills with another 7/11 donut. Honestly, I just ate for 12 days straight and I have no regrets.